Less than two weeks after getting saddled with a 30-point loss in its season opener at North Valleys, Sparks gave the NVHS squad all it could handle before succumbing on the final day of its annual preseason December tournament.
"They hurt us with their pressure the first time around, but they pulled it off today because we attacked it and scored some against it," Sparks coach Dick Lee said. "We did a decent job of neutralizing their size advantage but they still scored inside.
"It was much better than the first time. I'm still disappointed we're having a hard time putting four quarters together, but so are a lot of teams at this point in the season. The kids executed the game plan. And for only having seven kids today, they played as hard as they could."
Sparks trailed by five, 31-26, at halftime but watched North Valleys (6-2) take firm control through the first five minutes of the third period. The visiting Panthers started the second half with a 12-2 run that saw them forge ahead 43-28. Luke Archer capped the outburst with a layup at the 2:58 mark of the third quarter that gave North Valleys a 43-28 lead.
Despite the double-digit margin, Sparks (4-7) did not roll over and die. A 7-0 spurt late in the third quarter got the Railroaders back in contention, down 45-37 after a 3-pointer by Jorge Dorado.
North Valleys' Aaron Short got an off-balance 18-foot jumper to fall through the twine as time expired on the third period, leaving the scoreboard to read 47-37.
The Panthers pushed their lead to 12 on two occasions in the fourth quarter. The last time came at 51-39 on a runner by Short. Railroaders swingman Angel Guillen answered with a 3-pointer, trimming the margin back to nine, 51-42 at the 2:25 mark of the fourth period.
A pair of Martin Jordan free throws with 43 ticks to go saw Sparks get within eight, 54-46. Sparks ' Bryan Orellana hit a short jumper in the lane as time expired to account for the final six-point margin.
"The surprising thing was they made their run when they went to man defense," Lee said. "I thought we might have an advantage when they did that, but it didn't work out that way. We got a little impatient and shot too early."
Neither team could muster much momentum in the first half. The two teams traded buckets to a 14-14 score following a trey by Sparks guard Andrew Garcia with 1:55 to go in the first period.
North Valleys responded with a 9-0 burst that saw the north Reno school capture a 23-14 lead less than a minute into the second period. That margin was short-lived. Sparks proceeded to put together a 12-3 run of its own and knot the score at 26-26. Guillen's layup in transition was the game-tying score and it came with 3:25 to go before the intermission.
Unfortunately for Sparks, it did not score again before halftime while North Valleys got a layup and a 3-pointer to take the 31-26 edge into the locker room at the break.
Guillen finished with 21 points to lead Sparks on offense. Garcia and Jordan added 12 and 10 points respectively for the SHS cagers.
Short and Nick Palco both had 14 points to pace North Valleys.
Sparks gets more than a week off before it returns to hardwood for any game action. The Railroaders suit up again Dec. 29 for a non-league affair against Incline. Tip-off is slated for 7 p.m.